Murphy aides responsible for Alvarez hiring, legislative report finds

Daniel J. Munoz//June 5, 2019

Murphy aides responsible for Alvarez hiring, legislative report finds

Daniel J. Munoz//June 5, 2019

The Murphy campaign and transition team, and later his administration, failed then-campaign supporter Katie Brennan “every step of the way” with her allegations that a campaign staffer sexually assaulted her in 2017.

That is according to a report released Wednesday by the state Legislative Oversight Committee, a bipartisan, 15-member committee tasked with scrutinizing why the Murphy gubernatorial transition team hired then-staffer Al Alvarez, despite several senior officials having knowledge of the rape allegations Brennan made against him.

Moreso, current-Choose New Jersey President and Chief Executive Officer Jose Lozano, as well as former Murphy chief of staff Pete Cammarano were essentially the two senior figures responsible for Alvarez’s hiring at the Schools Development Authority—a beleaguered agency under scrutiny for its hiring practices as a so-called “patronage pit.”

Brennan is now chief of staff at the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency. Alvarez has fiercely denied the allegations against him.

County prosecutors for Hudson and Middlesex counties reviewed the case but declined to file charges.

“In other words, the system did not fail Ms. Brennan; the people who were entrusted with properly and responsibly handling Ms. Brennan’s complaint failed her at every step of the way,” reads the report. “There should have been an investigation before decisions were made about hiring Mr. Alvarez and what to do about Mr. Alvarez and Ms. Brennan’s complaint.”

“While the lack of contemporaneous notes is itself an issue that needs to be addressed, perhaps of greater concern is that this lack of documentation seems to be the result of either a shocking lack of recognition of the seriousness of the allegation or a desire not to have a factual record of the precise details of what transpired,” adds the report.

Lozano was head of the transition team after Phil Murphy declared victory for the governorship in 2017. He now heads Choose NJ, an agency which has often coordinated with the state Economic Development Authority in an effort to attract businesses to the state.

The conclusion that Lozano and Cammarano were both responsible for Alvarez’s hiring runs counter to conclusions from a report by former New Jersey Attorney General and State Supreme Court Justice Peter Verniero, which essentially cleared the Murphy administration of any blame for Alvarez’s hiring.

“It’s insulting to the Legislature for the Verniero report to claim that the hiring of Mr. Alvarez to such a high-level position was a foregone conclusion,” Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor-Marin, D-29th District, said prior to lawmakers approving the release of the report.

“Their refusal to accept responsibility for Mr. Alvarez’s hiring and their assertion that they have no knowledge of who did is insulting to the committee and the Legislature as a whole,” the report said of Cammarano and Lozano.

The sluggish pace by which the Murphy Administration ultimately pushed Alvarez to resign suggested that senior officials were “more concerned with avoiding negative publicity than following proper protocols and getting to the truth of the matter,” according to the report. “There was no legal bar to informing the governor and, as the leader of the organization, he should have been informed,” the report added.

This comes despite allegations from several Murphy administration, campaign and transition officials who testified before the committee suggesting otherwise.

The report also faults Chief Counsel Matt Platkin for not documenting interactions with Alvarez asking him to leave. Cammarano, meanwhile, was faulted for not documenting his communications with Alvarez for post-government life. The attorney general’s office was faulted for saying it had no jurisdiction to investigate the claims because neither Alvarez nor Brennan were state employees.

Murphy has reiterated all along that he had no knowledge of Brennan’s specific allegations against Alvarez until a report from The Wall Street Journal in October, but said nonetheless that he was appalled by the revelations.

“[Murphy] commissioned a systemic review by former Attorney General and Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court Peter Verniero, launched an internal review of existing EEO [equal employment opportunity] policy in State government, and directed the Attorney General to review how these cases are handled by law enforcement,” Murphy spokesperson Alyana Alfaro said in a statement.

“These actions have already led to meaningful reforms, putting New Jersey on a path to being a national leader in the fight for survivors of sexual assault,” she added. “Although there is still work to do to change the culture surrounding issues of sexual assault, the Governor is confident that these steps will significantly improve our current system.”

The report recommends that gubernatorial transition teams should be regulated more like a state agency. They should be subject to the state’s equal opportunity employment laws, have broader resources to conduct sexual misconduct investigations and be given a civil service-based human resources professional who can serve as the EEO point-person for the transition team.

“The findings of this report confirm what I have known all along—that sexual violence survivors in this state still cannot expect to receive justice,” Brennan said in a statement in response to the report. “I waved a red flag at every turn of this process, and at every turn, I went unheard. And while my story should cause outrage, what should be even more disturbing is the knowledge that I am only one of countless survivors in our state who have gone voiceless and whose assaulters remain unaccountable.

“To our lawmakers, you now have a mandate—take meaningful action to create real accountability for perpetrators of sexual violence and for those who would protect them. To the Administration, you have a mandate as well, to hold accountable those who failed to take action or actively protected Al Alvarez,” Brennan added. “To truly claim the moral authority to implement a strong, pro-women, progressive policy agenda, the individuals in your senior leadership who have been complicit must be held to account.”